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I played Through the Ages for the third time last night and am struggling to come up with a decent strategy to assist in winning. I am not sure if my problem is due to the random nature of the events and tech upgrades, or if my strategy is just wrong.

Through the Ages front cover

My strategy was

  • have the strongest military
  • use a leader to give 1 extra civil action to replace military
  • produce a lot of resources, to build upgrades and wonders easily.

My downfall was that due to my leader allowing only one military action, I had no defense/colonisation bonus cards, so struggled to win territories, which came up a lot. The bonus on one was 11 points of culture, so effectively that could have been a 22 point swing!

I only lost by 4 culture, so no idea if my final score was the result of poor decisions/strategy, or just luck of the card draw.

I would love to hear more experienced player's views.

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3 Answers

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I think it's impossible to outline a universal winning strategy, but I'll chip in with some tips.

  • You don't always need to have the strongest military, but it's usually a bad idea to have the weakest. If you're relatively close behind the player(s) with the most military, it's quite easy to ramp it up in the event of a war.
  • Familiarize yourself with the event cards, they change character from age to age. Ancient events are presents for everyone. Age I and II are where you're rewarded for being best at something, and punished for being worst. Age III is purely culture gains.
  • More civil actions are good, to a point (combine with yellow cards).
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First, it sounds like the leader you are describing is Hammurabi, but he only applies for Age A and 1 (he will die at the end of age 1), so there's no way he should have been impeding bids for Historic Territory 2 (an Age 2 event card that by definition couldn't have come out by then). Are you sure you're playing everything right?

Also, you don't mention if you're playing the Advanced Game or the Full Game, but it's important, because there are significant differences between them in what works and what doesn't. I'll try to highlight some of the important differences. But here are some things to think about:

  • Science is probably the most important thing in the game, barring your final culture score (of course). Not resources, food, CAs or anything else, but science. You can work around most other things, but science is the wellspring from which all the advances you can make are. Also, unlike almost everything else in the game, you can't really have too much of it. The first strategic question you have to answer is "where am I going to get more science income". It can be from Alchemy, it could be from Printing Press (which is only so-so but is sometimes necessary), it could be from the Universitas - whatever it is, figure it out. Alchemy is probably the card I reach deep for early most often in the game, and if it's the last one, it's almost a must grab. I can't emphasize this enough: when in doubt, do something to increase your science.
  • Next, of course, comes CAs. Civil Actions give you a lot more options and control over your fate. Science is what allows you to gain CAs (mostly), so that's one of the reasons for science's supremacy, but if you don't increase your CAs, you can't troubleshoot effectively. And that's what TtA is, in the full game: you're troubleshooting problems from turn to turn, keeping your civilization as efficient as possible. Try and plan out what you're going to do here. Early Monarchy? Were you lucky enough to draw Pyramids? Are you going to reach for the first age 2 government that slides out and revolt to it? Whatever you do, try and keep your science balance at a point that will allow you to make your governmental switches efficient. And don't worry about losing some resources to corruption! A couple rocks is a small price to pay to switch to something like ConMon.
  • Probably the next thing I look at is military. Trying to win with military is a crapshoot. You just might not draw the cards you need to make it work, and if you overinvested, somebody else is going to clobber you on points. But while you can't be sure about winning with military, you sure as heck can lose the game with it. I always check, every turn, what my relative position is, how many D/C cards I am back of the leaders, how many cards they've been drawing and how many I'm about to draw and everything else. If I am vulnerable, I have to fix this problem. If there's only one person that's in a position to whack you, maybe you can get away with it - especially if there's a juicier target out there! But you have to be aware of your position with everybody else and then take steps to fix things.
  • Now, you get to make progress on other stuff. Try and increase your resource production first, because that enables you do do most other stuff (although you can use a high CA civ with yellow cards to cover for a lack of rocks pretty well). Food, you just want to keep at a reasonable level, you can over-invest in it pretty easily. Try and see how many cards people are seeding in the event deck and guesstimate if you need to keep some troops available for colonization. But if you've fixed those other problems, you can start applying your discretion here.
  • A word about events: don't just seed them with no good reason. Don't put something in you think you might benefit from. Just put it in if you're reasonably confident. And if you're behind on military, particularly early in the game, don't seed anything! You're just helping your opponents get gnarly stuff like Border Conflict, Uncertain Borders, Raiders, Foray and all that other stuff out faster. Don't help them out, make them do all the work. Then, maybe when you get back on top on military, there will be some of that junk still left in the deck to take advantage of.

Note that nowhere in there did I mention culture. That's because, by and large, culture is an accident not a goal up until mid-to-late age 2. That's not true if more than one person sprints early, then you might have to invest some just to not fall too far behind, but if there's only one clear culture leader, I don't worry about it. Don't build Dramas or the Taj Mahal - those rocks are better spent on Bread & Circuses and the Universitas. Invest in infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure and then when you hit age 3, you'll be able to crank out a ton of culture (and slaughter them on impacts).

Hope this helps.

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One tip that I give to new players is to "focus on your weakness" (in the areas of happiness, pop/crops, science, military, resources, culture, and government. Might have missed one, but you get the point!) –  The Chaz 2.0 Jan 15 '13 at 3:24
(By the way, I'm "The Chaz" on boardgaming-online if anyone wants to add me to a TtA game.) –  The Chaz 2.0 Jan 15 '13 at 3:25
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Hammurabi is a double edged sword. It gives you one extra CA which helps a lot in the early game. But you desperately need that second MA he took from you. With only one MA it is really hard to get a decent age I tactic card, which are Medieval army or Phalanx. The only way to get the second MA is warfare, so you need to take it as soon as it is available.

After you have the warfare it is a big help also in age II where the most powerful tactics are. After Hammurabi dies you have 3 MA and can draw full set of military cards, which increases your chance to find your precious napoleonic army or classic army. Also Mobile artillery is really good because it requires only 2 units, but it doesn't give much bonus if you manage to get Napoleon as your leader.

My general strategy is to first upgrade science then mines. There is plenty of resources available in the yellow cards but only little science. I try to collect enough science for discovering Constitutional Monarchy in early age II. Then you can pick that up even with 3 CA and discover it right away. After that your playing gets so much easier and you can choose how you are going to do your culture.

One thing to add. Strategies for two player games and four player games differ. In two player game it is essential that you manage the card row efficiently. Estimate what your opponent will take from it and calculate which cards will be in the 1 CA slot on your turn. Also in two player game taking the cards your opponent desperately needs is a must, even though you wouldn't need those card at all. For example if your opponent has not picked up irrigation form Age I, by taking Selective Breeding from Age II you will practically force your opponent to take Ocean Liner for getting any new workers. And if he misses that too, well.. You have already won. (Unless he has played suitable territories into the deck and plans to colonize them and get more yellow buttons etc. but that's more advanced)

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